Strong leaders ask great questions. Their questions make you think, make you smarter, and make you grow. Leading with questions is a powerful skill that engages, empowers and ennobles people. So long as the questions are not leading or manipulative...
Asking Leading Questions Is a Cheap Trick. You’re Better Than That.
A “leading question” is phrased to elicit the desired response. It boxes the respondent in by making it clear that there’s a favored answer. The question itself is highly suggestive and reveals what the answer should be.
A leading question is usually accompanied by body language and tone that also pushes the respondent in a certain direction. The questioner nods while asking, for example, to demonstrate agreement.
When asked intentionally, leading questions are meant to persuade, compel, or manipulate others. They are narrow and “box in” the respondent. Sometimes, this is called “putting words in someone’s mouth.” When attorneys “lead the witness” by providing the answer within the question – “Wasn’t the defendant inebriated when he left the bar and got into his car?” – that’s a leading question.
We ask leading questions in our day-to-day exchanges, too, perhaps unintentionally. “Wouldn’t you like to go grocery shopping with me?” is more leading than “How do you feel about going grocery shopping with me?” The first version suggests there is an expectation or hope while the second question sounds more open and accepting of any response.
Leading questions may be subtle. They may also work. But people feel suspicious and mistrusting of those who over-steer them in this way.
When you ask leading questions, you also compromise the quality of information you receive. You insert bias in the question and force compliance in the response. These questions don’t invite true opinions, thinking about options, or exploration of new ideas.
Leading questions are often used to mislead people. Talk show hosts and celebrity interviewers often use leading questions in an attempt to make it seem like others agree with them or to zero in on an attack point (without context). The tactic serves only one purpose – to frame a story or characterization in a pre-determined way. When you see this happening, be discerning about the credibility of that source!
As a leader, your best bet is to avoid asking leading questions. You’ll get better information and avoid leaving others feeling manipulated or misled.
On the other hand…
Leading with Questions Is a Like Magic. You Can (and Should!) Do This.
Strong, confident leaders understand that it’s better to have good questions than good answers. Good questions give you better answers and more information. They engage others and enrich every conversation.
Quality questions draw people into two-way dialogues where they contribute ideas and feel ennobled. When you also listen well to people’s answers, you’re building trust and deepening relationships.
That’s why leading with questions is like magic. Before you assert your own ideas, you ask for others. Voila! They’re now much more interested in your ideas, too. They’re more likely to buy into your decisions. And they’re quicker to support changes that come from these conversations.
Leading with questions demonstrates the old maxim “they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Leading with questions also boosts your effectiveness. You’ll have information you need before taking action. You’ll have engagement before you ask others to take action. And you’ll be making fully informed decisions instead of making costly mistakes.
Asking people questions boosts their effectiveness, too. When you ask a thought-provoking question, you cause others to pause and consider alternatives that will help them avoid hasty actions and errors. When you ask a clarifying question, you help people think through their priorities and focus on the highest value work. Getting clarity means less rework and fewer disappointments for everyone.
Great Questions Reduce Infobesity and Provide Clarity
In an age of information overload, those who lead with questions have an advantage. They aren’t duped by propaganda or sources that have a hidden agenda. They aren’t overwhelmed because they know how to cut through the excess with questions that “cut to the chase.”
If you have doubts about information, it’s better to question the conclusions, the data, the source, and the completeness. Most either discard information that raises doubts or ignore the doubts. Both responses feel efficient but may end up costing you much more time in the long run.
Not asking questions locks you into an echo chamber where you’ll only hear the same ideas and inputs over and over again. In an echo chamber, you might feel that things are efficient and your way of thinking is affirmed. But at what cost?
What are you missing, for example, if you only listen to one source of information? What if that source isn’t accurate, complete, or objective? As a leader, your credibility will take a hit if you’ve been too myopic in your view.
It may be counter-intuitive, but gathering more information and then cutting through it with questions is more likely to spare you from feeling overwhelmed by options. You’ll be more confident in the information you rely on when it comes from multiple sources and has been balanced by a diversity of perspectives.
By questioning information and sources, you’ll gain clarity that makes you stronger as a leader and more trustworthy as a source. You’ll also avoid the risk of repeating others’ talking points because you’ll be able to formulate your own and apply them in ways that are far more meaningful, personal, and relevant to others in your organization.
Take the time to build your questioning skills and then to lead with questions that challenge quick conclusions. Lead with questions to engage others and develop their questioning and critical thinking skills, too.
For more on this check out our YouTube series on critical thinking skills!